Providence College is in the rearview mirror after a successful three point weekend for the Eagles. The pair of performances restored BC's hope after a tough three game losing streak, and gave them a bit of momentum as they launch forward toward the most anticipated weekend of the season
Every matchup between Boston College and Boston University carries with it significant hype. In recent seasons, there have probably been years where the series has garnered more media hype than it will this year - particularly last season, when the national media focused on the Eichel vs. Hanifin clash, and 2009-10 when the storyline was the battle between the previous two national champions.
But while those years may have been more hyped up, this is probably the most statistically even and crucial series between the Eagles and the Terriers in quite some time. BU and BC come in to the weekend ranked #9 and #10 in the Pairwise, and both seem to have hopes for hardware both locally and nationally. This weekend will likely go a long way toward revealing just how serious of a contender each team is.
The Terriers are coming off their best stretch of hockey this season. BU sat at 8-6-3 and on the wrong side of the Pairwise bubble on December 12 going in to their matchup with then-undefeated Quinnipiac in Hamden. BU proceeded to trounce the Bobcats 4-1, going in to the break with a head of steam and wins over Denver, Michigan and the Q under their belt, along with two ties against Providence and a tie against Cornell.
Things only got better for BU after the break. The Terriers wisely didn't schedule any games during World Juniors and only just returned to play last Thursday at Harvard. The soaring Crimson jumped out to a huge early lead but a patented BU third period comeback boosted them to an unlikely 6-5 victory in Allston, scoring three goals in the final ten minutes of play to snatch the victory. BU followed that win up by trucking UMass 7-2 on Friday night.
Suddenly, the Terriers are 11-6-3 and looking like a legitimate contender. Two factors seem to be driving BU's resurgence: the health of senior captain Matt Grzelcyk, who missed the season's first 12 games but has come back to put up 10 points and a +5 mark in 8 games; and the emergence of Sean Maguire as the team's go to starting goalie. Maguire hasn't necessarily been fantastic - his save percentage on the season is still at .899 - but he's played well enough in each of the last three games to backstop BU to wins, particularly standing out by making 36 saves at Quinnipiac.
There's no Jack Eichel on this year's BU team. Their leading scorer is Danny O'Regan, who sits at #23 nationally with 23 points. They only have two other scorers in the top 75. But they've got enough depth up front that they've built a solid attack, sitting in the top ten nationally with an average of 3.55 goals per game. They're midpack in terms of goals allowed at 2.85 ga/game, due largely to spotty goaltending. They've done a good job controlling possession, sitting at #8 in the country in 5 v. 5 corsi for (55.8%), so just getting average goaltending will often be good enough for them to control the game.
It's exciting to see these two teams on a collision course ranked so closely. It seems like BC and BU are rarely contenders at the same time. BU's two great teams in recent years, the 2009 and 2015 squads, matched up against relatively weak BC teams. The best Eagle teams - 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 - feasted on relatively meager BU teams, who were at best NCAA bubble teams and at worst horrendous. The last time the two were probably both considered legit national title contenders was 2006, when BU ran past BC for the Beanpot and Hockey East titles before BC bounced back to eliminate BU from the NCAA tournament in Worcester with a 5-0 victory.
The stakes are incredibly high for both teams as the Battle of Comm. Ave approaches. A sweep by either team would boost one in to the top 8 in pairwise while knocking the other down to the precarious Pairwise bubble. A split would keep both teams churning toward the home stretch in a solid but not comfortable spot. Are you ready?